Gavin Lyall

Gavin Lyall was born in Birmingham in 1932. He completed National Service 1951-1953 as a pilot officer in the RAF flying Gloster Meteors, after that he went to Cambridge and graduated in 1956 with honours in English. He went on to write for several newspapers and was aviation correspondent for the Sunday Times. He was also a director on BBC’s Tonight programme.

   His first novel The Wrong Side of the Sky was published in 1961 based on his experiences in Greece and the Libyan Desert. P. G. Wodehouse called it: ‘Terrific: When better novels of suspense are written, lead me to them.’

   Recently I had The Most Dangerous Game, his second book published in 1964, come in a very clean 1st edition copy and as I had not come across it before, I read it. The key character is Bill Cary former RAF pilot who had worked for SIS during the war flying agents into occupied Europe. He is now working in Finland as a plane for hire, a bit down on his luck, a hard boiled man in the Philip Marlowe style.

   A wealthy American asks Cary to fly him into the remote border region for the bear hunting. He can do this with his Beaver Float Plane landing and taking off from lakes. From then on events gather pace with SIS looking for Cary and the mysterious American. He then has to cross the border for SIS to pick up an important passenger, there is talk of lost treasure all coming to a great climax on a Russian lake. I will not tell you anymore you will have to read it.

   The film rights to his third book, the 1965 Midnight Plus One, were snapped up by Steve McQueen. In which an ex-spy is hired to drive a millionaire to Liechtenstein, unfortunately McQueen died before it could be brought to the screen.

   Lyall went on to write numerous other novels including the Major Harry Maxim spy books starting with Secret Service published in 1980, which was adapted for television in 1984 starring Charles Dance.  Later he wrote a short series of four historical novels going back to the start of the SIS. The first was Spy’s Honour in 1993 very much in the John Buchan style. Most of his books are still available today, certainly well worth a look. A lot can be found at  He was also a keen Wargamer and appeared in Battleground a Tyne Tees TV Series in 1978.

   Gavin Lyall won the Crime Writers Silver Dagger in 1964 and 1965. He died in January 2008.